If you want to walk on water…get out of the boat.

The Voyage of Brendan. Scanned from the Celtic Mandalas calendar by Jen Delyth. I’ve been buying and using this calendar every year for a long time, and I’ve been saving many of the images in my resource file for use in prayer. So much beauty and spirituality in her work. (Please click on the image to follow the link to her website.)

I played the Psalm 69 setting by Sons of Korah when I gave an assembly in school this week on the theme of: Facing our fears with courage. I took my inspiration from John Ortberg’s inspiring book, relating to the title of this post, and from Gerry W. Hughes S.J. from his book ” God in All Things” when he says:

Desire can only be controlled by a stronger desire.

Gerry W. Hughes S.J. God in All things

And I’m thinking here of the first being more superficial, inordinate desires born out of fear, perhaps leading to avoidance, sloth, self-loathing and other manifestations of spiritual desolation; and the stronger desire being that which is deeper, calling us into life, encouraging and strenghtening us, in other words, leading to spiritual consolation. While I talked about deeper desire and fear as something that gets in the way of it in my assembly, here, I want to focus on the video clip I showed from the film “The Shack”, (firstly a book) and to observe the movement in it in the context of an example, hypothetical or otherwise, of imaginative contemplation on the gospel passage where Jesus, and then Peter, walks on the water. (Matthew 14: 22-33)

Prayer card on Imaginative Contemplation. This may be printed onto A6 card (or bigger) to have in your prayer spot if it helps to remind you of the flow.

It might be worth filling in a little bit of background to the character. On a camping trip, Mack jumped into the lake to save his son from drowning when he got stuck in a capsised canoe. Unfortunately, Mack left his youngest daughter unattended at the camper van and she was abducted. All they found was her bloodied dress in an old shack in the forest. Mack has been tormented ever since. In this scene, Jesus has invited him to take the boat onto the lake to enjoy the peace and beauty of the place.

Mack’s imaginative contemplation of the gospel passage where Jesus walks on the water.

To begin with, we see the place: the peacefulness of the lake: we hear the birds and the paddles in the water, and can almost feel the breeze on our skin and the sun on our face. Mack is in the scene, rowing and he stops to let the peace sink in. It has been a while since he felt anything close to this peacefulness. And then the fear creeps in, anxious fear, despairing fear: and it pulls him away from the graced state of consolation he was momentarily in. In this turmoil, Jesus calls to him:

Look at me. Trust me. I’m not going anywhere.

And so Mack is interacting within the scene. Although there are recognisable elements, his experience of it does not follow the same plot as the gospel passage and that is not important; it is not something we should try to enforce. The imaginative contemplation takes a life of its own, as we trust in God to be with us, where we are; we experience Him up close and personal when we pray in this way. And of course, there is the colloquy towards the end of the scene, the conversation, where one friend speaks to another. Here, Jesus gently challenges Mack’s image of God and reveals what His desire is: to see people change by knowing Papa, to feel what it is like to be truly loved.

I would love to slow down the movement from the creeping fear to stepping out of the boat, to know more about what was going on in Mack during those moments. I would also want to know how it was for him to tell Jesus that he didn’t think he had ever felt like that. And I wonder how he felt at Jesus’ response to him saying that. I notice that these moments may be rich with spiritual fruit and that Mack might benefit from repetition of these points from his prayer.

When it is our deep desire connecting us to God that is driving us to do the things we do, fear may be present and it may even feel pervasive, but when we look at Him, and keep looking at Him, we find the courage to face those fears, and our trust in God deepens. Imaginative contemplation is one method of prayer that can help us to feel the depth of our own, and God’s desire.

More music – as a prayer to close.

Hillsong United: Oceans